Confucianism still relevant

  • Business
  • Thursday, 31 Jul 2003

Professor Wang Gungwu

CONFUCIAN ideas, although more than five thousand years old, are still relevant to the modern business world, a Chinese academician said. 

Director of East Asia Institute, National University of Singapore, Professor Wang Gungwu said Confucianism's emphasis on the educability of man was likely to the most appropriate and resilient value for the new knowledge economy. 

The emphasis on hard work, being responsible and saving for investment were also an important aspects that were relevant to the modern society, he said in his presentation on Is there a place for Confucian ethics? at the last day of the convention. 

Prof Wang said the quality of trust, which goes together with honesty and reliability, was another critical element in Confucianism. 

“It (quality of trust) is still the cornerstone of family businesses that remain the backbone of most small and medium-size enterprises today,'' said Wang, who was formerly vice-chancellor of the University of Hong Kong. 

He said many Chinese businessmen had developed their own traditions based on Confucian ethics in their transactions and relationships during the past five centuries. 

“They selected the concepts they found useful and integrated them into the corpus of business handbooks.  

“There is nothing to prevent businessmen who have followed useful bits of Confucian values from adapting to new technology, including methods of management and innovations,'' he added. 

Wang said businessmen would find that accommodating new attitudes towards high-tech competition was not against the principles of Confucianism. 

The Confucian classics, he said, were mainly concerning personal behaviour and social relationships and the core belief in Confucianism was the moral foundation for a good society. 

However Wang said two aspects of the reality today were not found in the Confucian classics - the rule of law and the wealth-enhanced status of the merchant class. 

He said the status of merchants was very much different now compared with the past, for example the position of the merchant as a trans-border entrepreneur, and as industrialist, financier and activist in local and international political affairs was contrary to the Confucian order. 

Any combination of Confucian ideas and institutions would have to take into account the power of the business class in the service of the modern state, he added. 

Wang suggested that it would be useful to examine the role of modern business in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong where the overlapping of politics and business had not necessitated the explicit rejection of Confucian values. 

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